Thursday, April 16, 2015

Toner and McInerny on Scholastic Metaphysics


Two new reviews of Scholastic Metaphysics: A Contemporary Introduction.  First, in the Spring 2015 issue of the American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly, Prof. Patrick Toner (pictured at left) kindly reviews the book.  From the review:

This is an excellent little survey of scholastic metaphysics, written more or less from the perspective of “analytic Thomism”…

The refutation of scientism is elegant and thoroughly successful…

Feser explains the rationale behind [the] principle [of causality], distinguishes it from the Principle of Sufficient Reason, and defends it against many objections, including a standard from Hume, as well as more recent worries, from Newton, and from quantum mechanics.  Very useful material.

Feser next tackles the doctrine of substance, beginning with form and matter, and explaining the difference between substantial and accidental form, among other things.  This chapter’s main contribution, in my estimation, is the fine way in which it shows that these notions are not anti-scientific throwbacks only acceptable to the hopelessly medieval…

As an analytic metaphysician, I found the book to be very good.  Feser usually does an outstanding job of giving just the right sort of coverage to each topic he treats…

This would be an excellent book to use as a text in an undergraduate or graduate course in metaphysics or natural philosophy…

To sum up: highly recommended.  Anyone working in metaphysics, the philosophy of nature, or the philosophy of mind would be well advised to read through this book…

Prof. Toner also has some criticisms.  First, he suggests that my treatment of scientism might have been improved by responding to the approach represented by Thomas Hofweber in his essay in the Chalmers, Manley, and Wasserman volume Metametaphysics.  That is a good suggestion, and I will plan to write up something on Hofweber.  Toner also thinks the treatment of analogy is too brief.  In my defense I’d say that here as with other topics it would have been difficult to say more without getting deep into issues lying outside the boundaries of metaphysics proper.  For example, to say much more about the metaphysics of biological phenomena would have required an excursus in philosophy of biology and philosophy of nature; and to say much more about analogy would have required an excursus in philosophy of language and logic.  But as Toner acknowledges, this is a “judgment call.”

In The Review of Metaphysics, Prof. D. Q. McInerny also very kindly reviews Scholastic Metaphysics.  From the review:

One would be hard pressed to find a better introduction to scholastic metaphysics than that provided by Edward Feser. The book is excellently organized, treats its various topics with remarkable thoroughness and depth, and is written in an always clear, precise, and vibrant style. The book could only have been written by someone who has a complete command of the fundamental concepts of scholastic metaphysics, as well as an impressive knowledge of the main currents of modern philosophy. The book is argumentative in the best sense: conclusions are always supported by sturdy premises. Very effective use is made of concrete examples. The book comes accompanied with an ample and informative bibliography. For anyone who seeks a substantive and sound introduction to scholastic metaphysics, this is the book with which to begin.

39 comments:

LorenzoCanuck said...

When is the e-book version coming out? I am afraid my physical bookshelves are already full!

lukebarnes said...

I second that. Kindle!

PhilR said...

@Lorenzo and Luke.
No! Buy a real copy and scribble furiously in the margin, underline, annotate.....much more fun.

Daniel said...

Not in the same league (just yet...) but I hope to get a review up on Amazon when I have the time.

My major complaint is that the book lacks an chapter on the Problem of Universals. Of course Universals and the nature of 'Moderate Realism' come up briefly in the discussion of Essentialism but we want a full-scale section contrasting it with Impure Realism, Trope Theory and other supposed modern answers to the problem. Somewhere in TLS Ed claims that the Nominalism/Realism debate is pretty much the center of metaphysics so we should hear more about it in a volume on... metaphysics.

Daniel said...

I understand why it had to be written of course but I almost think the section on Scientism verged on overkill. I mean it's really not an intelligent or well thought-out position in the first place; the serious metaphysical naturalist isn't going to bother with it. Even the Quine's Scientism is really just the Principle of Parsimony plus a lot of rhetoric (as Rorty admited it largely amounts to a matter of aesthetic preference).

Anonymous said...

But scholastic metaphysics can't be right because it implies that dogs can't go to heaven!

Jeff said...

Daniel, But the world is full of nonserious metaphysical naturalists (who do not even know that is what they are) who need the obvious repeated to them again and again and again....

Daniel said...

@Jeff,

That's true, though I fear reasoned argument maybe of little avail in such cases anyway.

(It took a couple of decades for Logical Positivism to wear itself despite more sober-minded naturalists having pointed out the incoherence of the Verificationist Criterion from the word go)

Daniel said...

If they're still giving the same bad arguments after TLS then giving them a more advanced book probably isn't going to help matters.

Random aside: it was rather short but I found the section on Analogy in GSM one of the clearest and most persuasive I've yet read.

Dennis said...

@Jeff

Daniel, But the world is full of nonserious metaphysical naturalists (who do not even know that is what they are) who need the obvious repeated to them again and again and again....

This is why I agree with Daniel, there should be more and more on universals, and this is why I think Dr. Feser should spend some time writing on things like Morphic Resonance.

Alphonsus Jr. said...

The assault upon incarnational reality that the Kindle and its ilk represent is a sufficient ground to reject such devices.

John West said...

Daniel,

Even the Quine's Scientism is really just the Principle of Parsimony plus a lot of rhetoric (as Rorty admited it largely amounts to a matter of aesthetic preference).

I'm sure I've written elsewhere, this aspect is my complaint about Quine's own methodology. If entities indispensable to science entail other commitments, we ought to also have those commitments. According to Putnam's take, Quine seems to want to forego chasing down all these other, necessarily implied commitments.

Now that I think about it though, Quine may not have been as consistent as Putnam makes it seem on that front. (ie. doesn't he bottom out his ontological commitments to mathematical entities?). I do, however, think the “plus a lot of rhetoric” charge is a little over the top; he does give reasons besides a preference for desert landscapes.

Anyway, I'm looking forward to Ed's reply to Hofweber's approach. I'm also looking forward to any work on universals and modality that happens to get done, but the author writes what the author writes.

Daniel said...

I do, however, think the “plus a lot of rhetoric” charge is a little over the top; he does give reasons besides a preference for desert landscapes.

This is true though I think the method of Quine and others is underpinned by something approaching a mere appeal to ridicule. For instance talk of 'jungles' verses 'deserts' - no philosopher worth his or her salt is going to posit an entity which does no metaphysical work. All that has been introduced is a slick pejorative or Thought Terminating-Cliche to shut-down ideas the philosopher doesn't like a la calling A Priori knowledge 'armchair' or Dualism 'the ghost in the machine'.

Daniel said...

EDIT: that should be 'which he/she thinks does does no metaphysical work'.

John West said...

Daniel,

All that has been introduced is a slick pejorative or Thought Terminating-Cliche to shut-down ideas the philosopher doesn't like a la calling A Priori knowledge 'armchair' or Dualism 'the ghost in the machine'.

As I recall, Quine makes the comment as part of a criticism of David Lewis's ontology, and both you and I have written much the same about it not long ago ("the most bloated ontology imaginable").

John West said...

I stand corrected: the comment's from "On What There Is". It just gets quoted in reference to Lewis worlds by others lots. We've still said much the same about Lewis, though (it is the most bloated ontology imaginable).

Anonymous said...

Daniel, what is GSM?

Scott said...

"Daniel, what is GSM?"

I had the same question, but I figured it was probably supposed to be SM (for Scholastic Metaphysics). Glad somebody asked, though, in case I was wrong.

Anonymous said...

@John,

That saves me some embarrassment - I was thinking of the treatment of Property-Universals in 'On What There Is' when I made that post.

And I stand by that remark on Lewis ;) Like I said though I have no problem with regarding ontological parsimony as a virtue at all - my concern is that the sort of rhetoric* mentioned lead to a spurious parsimony, to keeping one's ontology bare at the cost of not explaining very much (or, worse still, having to admit a load of Brute Facts which is tantamount to an outright refusal to give an explanation).

*for instance Mackie's Argument from Queerness.

@Anon,

GSM is what CSM get's called when I place too much faith in my speed-typing abilities.

Daniel said...

CSM = Contemporary Scholastic Metaphysics.

Daniel said...

And Providence' lesson for Daniel today is: Pay attention to the damn key-board!

(The Anon post in response to John is of course from me.)

Jeremy Taylor said...

Sorry for the off topic question, but does anyone know where Dr. Feser or any other natural lawyer deals with the role of reason in morality?

Specifically, it is a common criticism of natural law, even from those sympathetic in some ways (like Eliseo Vivas) that natural law is overly rationalistic, that most natural lawyers (including Aquinas) have thought you can start with basic principles and deduce very full moral precepts for all the great proliferation of circumstances in life. A related criticism, made by Vivas and others, is that natural law's legalistic framework encourages obeying rules instead of cultivating inner virtues.

Does anyone know if natural lawyers have dealt with these kinds of criticisms and written in depth on the role of reasoned precept versus other means of moral knowledge when it comes to everyday moral life? Would I be correct in thinking Macintyre would be one natural lawyer who deals with these issues?

Brandon said...

that most natural lawyers (including Aquinas) have thought you can start with basic principles and deduce very full moral precepts for all the great proliferation of circumstances in life.

Aquinas certainly would deny this; it is inconsistent with his recognition of the first precept of natural law as the practical counterpart of the principle of noncontradiction. Insisting that reasoning about truths should conform to the principles of logic does not in any way imply that all truths, even contingent ones, are deducible from the principle of noncontradiction. That's not how these kinds of general principles work in the first place. Further, he is quite explicit that in practical matters there are the two additional factors that (1) the practical principles can fail in particular circumstances due to circumstantial details; and (2) our judgment of the practical principles can be distorted by passions, temperamental prejudices, and vices. The further 'legalistic framework' objection runs into the problem that natural law theory is the theory of moral reason that naturally developed within the virtue ethics tradition in the first place. Neither objection is easy to frame in a way that doesn't ignore the actual history.

MacIntyre does deal with issues like these, though; his account of practices is arguably a direct answer to the first criticism you note.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Brandon,

Thank you for the information. Very interesting.

John Quin said...

Brilliant! With Dr Feser spruking his latest work like this I'm going to buy a printed version rather than wait for the kindle edition. Nicely played Dr Feser LOL

ALEXANDER VI said...

I doubt if the wider philosophical community will loose much sleep over Feser's book. I can't think of any serious philosopher who would accept a simplistic scientism and Feser altogether fails to provide detailed arguments that demonstrate the explanatory vale of his own "metaphysics".

John Quin said...

Great! Now all I can picture is philosophers that frown a lot.

Mr. Green said...

I doubt if the wider philosophical community will loose[sic] much sleep over Feser's book.

Their dogmatic slumbering will continue undisturbed, no doubt.

I can't think of any serious philosopher who would accept a simplistic scientism

I guess the serious ones go for convoluted scientism.

Greg said...

@ ALEXANDER VI

So do you claim that Alex Rosenberg and the Churchlands do not hold the positions Feser understands them to hold?

Anonymous said...

I can't think of any serious philosopher who would accept a simplistic scientism

Serious philosophers aren't the only target, and your lack of awareness of them doesn't mean much besides.

and Feser altogether fails to provide detailed arguments that

Read more. Or at least pretend you've read more. Hint: if you do either, you won't make bluff charges like that.

Timocrates said...

@ ALEXANDER VI

So the philosophy of "the wider philosophical community" is the philosophical wisdom contained in burying one's head in the sand?

How enlightened.

Daniel said...

Sleep deprived and slightly the worse-for-wear thoughts: just flicking through the beginning of SM again there occurs to me an even simpler way of encapsulating the spuriousness of the Virtus dormitory tautology criticism: 'if X caused sleep' and 'has a power to cause sleep' were tautologically equivalent (A=A) then Hume's philosophy of causation would boil down to the denial of a Analytic Truth (A≠A).

(Not that that one really needs to go into such depths here - the Virtus dormitory thing is pretty stupid; it just gets mentioned depressingly often)

In other news guess who just ended up with Leeds University Library's copy of Tooley's Causation: A Realist Approach?

Ismael said...

@Alexander VI

"I can't think of any serious philosopher who would accept a simplistic scientism"

Well, finally someone agrees that Daniel Dennett, Harris and all the other philosophers in the New Atheism movement are not serious philosophers at all :)

--

To note many philosopphers refute scientism altogether, even atheist ones (e.g. Massimo Pigliucci), hence Feser's criticism of scientism will not bother them, since they would, at the very least, agree with his conclusions that scientism is flawed.

As I recall many philosophers (even non-religeous ones) "ripped a new one" to both Krauss and Hawking when their books came out. They also did the same to Harris's book on moral scientism (The Moral Landscape).

So yeah... I guess that the New Atheist are an anti-intellectual breed (even if they like to call themselves "brights" haha), even among the non-religeous intelligentsia. ;)

---

"Feser altogether fails to provide detailed arguments that demonstrate the explanatory vale of his own "metaphysics"."

Sounds to me an empty criticism as I think (and not only I) tha Feser does demonstrate it and very well.

Anonymous said...

Off topic: Came across an interesting paper by Chalmers attempting to refute Puntam's argument against computationalism:

http://consc.net/papers/rock.html

Though Dr. Feser and others might find it of interest. FWIW I think Chalmers fails.

Cantus said...

We need books like this. There's just SO much misinformation about Scholasticism circulating. Why, just this morning I cracked open my college's copy of the 1993 Bloomsbury "Guide To Human Thought", and noticed that the entry for "Scholasticism" refers to it as an idea that developed in "pre-scientific societies", to the effect that you could come to the truth about something by simply discussing it with enough people for long enough, without bothering to do any research or perform any experiments. It then goes on to note that it "bedevilled scientific research" for years, eventually devolving into "disputes about the size of angels or the souls of butterflies" until it was "smashed" by Ockham's Razor (which it oddly finds the need to credit to an idea coming from "Jewish logic", whatever that means). The entry on mind and computers also spends considerable time lamenting our "narcissism" for thinking that we could come to some conclusions about the mind before modernity, and again bemoans the fact that our research in this field was for so long hampered by "Scholasticism". Well, no bias there, no siree. Admittedly this was made by a number of contributors, but *sheesh*. The writer(s) seem to have a _visceral_ hatred of Scholasticism, or "Scholasticism", as they understand it.

Timocrates said...

@ Cantus,

It definitely betrays modern scepticism toward the power and authority of reason and logic. It fails to see that once mathematical principles are known, one hardly needs to conduct field tests to verify the answers to mathematical equations. I guess we can't be sure that 10 times 10 will be 100 unless we physically reproduce it and then proceed to count the objects.

Scott said...

Reminds me of the old joke about the empirical scientist testing the hypothesis that there are no prime numbers greater than 7:

"Let's see. 8 isn't prime. 9 isn't prime. 10 isn't prime. Okay so far. Oops, 11 is prime. But wait, 12 isn't prime. 11 must have been an experimental error."

Daniel said...

See:

Atheistic Physicists’ Repudiation of Logic and Probability Theory

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